A director's passion
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Date: 24 March, 2004

Mel Gibson directing his film The Passion of the Christ. Photo: Icon Pictures

'I want people to understand the reality of the story, I want them to be taken through an experience - I want them to feel.'

EXCLUSIVE: Hollywood filmmaker and actor Mel Gibson talks about his controversial new film The Passion of the Christ

Why make a film about Jesus?

"This is the ultimate hero story for all mankind: He suffered, He died and He still won. It's as if He came back to say 'Look, see, I told you I could do this.'

"I want people to understand the reality of the story, I want them to be taken through an experience - I want them to feel."

Tell us more about the artistic influences behind the film's photography

"Caravaggio did all this amazing religious art - you go round the churches in Rome and there it is, it's everywhere in the cathedrals and it's tremendous.

"He's pretty dark, and pretty violent and it is kinetic. The way it's lit, the sense of light in his imagination when he did these pictures is just amazing. It's beautiful. We emulated that where we could."

Turning to the cast, why did do choose Jim Caviezel to play Jesus?

"He's got some 'other world' or 'unworldly' knowledge that seems to envelop him like a glove. And I thought that very presence was a key thing; to cast somebody who emits that kind of light. And he has a very good light coming from him, but that's just natural to Jim, that's who he is. He's very clear, it's not that complicated - until it needs to be. Then all of a sudden it is. He can get pretty complex on you.

"Jim is just perfect. He doesn't actually make one single mistake, anywhere, in this film. It's perfectly unflawed. He just was. You never see him acting or anything, he just was, he was Jesus. There's nothing that takes your attention away from that, you can just watch him and think 'Wow. That's Jesus'."

And Maia Morgenstern as the Virgin Mary?

"She's so soulful, it's in her eyes - the eyes are so beautiful. The first time I met her and saw her, it was electric."

Did Monica Bellucci have a rough time as Mary Magdalene?

"She's a knockout, and a very good actress. She's just not afraid to look filthy and dirty and beat up, crying… and it was awful because we were messing her up saying: 'More dirt! Put more dirt on her! More tear streaks, mess her hair up.' You couldn't - it was like, the messier she got, the better looking she got!"

Was it difficult directing the film?

"As far as directing this film, it's probably about the hardest gig that I've done. It wasn't as big as Braveheart, with all the horses and people but there were more precise things that had to happen.

"At the end of any given day I was drained, just from moving, just from the movement that's involved. So it's a very physical and emotional experience for me to try and realise it and have it happen, and create an environment for the cast where it can happen and not to dictate too heavily, because quite often you can overdo it.

"You just have to stand back sometimes and just let things happen once you've set it up and trust that it's just going to be there: let it happen and trust the talent.

"What I wanted to accomplish with it, I think I did, and that is to provide not a filming experience for people, but an experience for people."

Interview arranged by Christopher Nield

Read Catherine von Ruhland's review of The Passion of the Christ
Read Steve Tomkins' review of the film
Steve Tomkins on 2000 years of anti-Semitism
Your thoughts about the film on our discussion forum
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